It has been almost 20 years since our country went to war in Afghanistan. After 9/11, the American population rightfully demanded our forces take action against those who attacked us. Had I been in Congress I would have voted for that action.
When a country goes to war it should have a desired end state that delivers a better state of peace. It should have a theory of victory that can deliver that end state. It should align the ends, ways, and, means to that theory of victory; and continually, honestly measure and track progress of the war’s conduct.
This is what we teach to our strategists and future general officers at our war colleges. Why then, after almost two decades of war, do we still not have any of this in a coherent fashion?
We are still no closer to victory nor do we even really have a realistic idea of what victory looks like. We haven’t been honest on the conduct of the war. We have continuously shifted our war aims. We have paid staggering opportunity costs, racked up our debt, and lost countless lives. And yet, some continue to argue to “stay the course”.
Even the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that we were debating here in the Senate this past week had a Sense of the Senate opposing a “precipitous” withdrawal from Afghanistan. To that I ask, “what course are we staying?” And how can leaving after 20 years qualify as “precipitous”?
During the NDAA debate, I was proud to offer a bipartisan amendment which would have ended America’s longest war and provided bonuses to those who have deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism, empowering America to redirect the savings from ending nation-building in Afghanistan to the country’s needs at home.
The amendment, which a bipartisan majority eventually voted to table, was based on my American Forces Going Home After Noble (AFGHAN) Service Act, which I first introduced with Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) in March 2019. Senator Udall joined me in offering the amendment to the NDAA as well.
The bottom line is we cannot wait another day to figure out how to end the war in Afghanistan. We went to war to destroy or kill Al Qaeda. We said we would remove the Taliban if they didn’t deliver Al Qaeda. We have done that. Those who say we need to stay in Afghanistan to fight international terrorism need to start thinking out of the box and finding a new way to address that problem. Do we really have to build a country in order to control the ground, so we can fight against the potential of international terrorist attack?
Afghanistan will never be a Jeffersonian Democracy. We will never be able to bomb or build our way to making that happen. Equally, the Taliban, and transnational terrorism no longer present such an existential threat to the U.S. that we need to continue fighting an endless war. It’s time to embrace a new coherent, comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that returns our military “Over the horizon.” It’s time to bring our forces home.
Sadly, we continue to flail and spend money that, quite frankly, we no longer have. I say, instead of spending another $50 billion in Afghanistan next year, let’s end the war and use a fraction of the savings to thank those who sacrificed.
The American people are ready to declare victory and welcome our troops home. It's why President Trump’s message has resonated with so many. He said it’s time to come home, and the people agree. When will Congress listen to us?